An open letter signed by almost 1,300 people which says the signers are “public health professionals, infectious diseases professionals, and community stakeholders” advocates for the current protests around the nation. The letter states, “In addressing demonstrations against white supremacy, our first statement must be one of unwavering support for those who would dismantle, uproot, or reform racist institutions.”
As NPR noted, the letter was “initially written by infectious disease experts at the University of Washington.”
The letter begins by citing “heavily armed and predominantly white protesters” entering the State Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, in late April to protest stay-home orders. Continuing, “Infectious disease physicians and public health officials publicly condemned these actions and privately mourned the widening rift between leaders in science and a subset of the communities that they serve,” the letter suddenly segues to this:
As of May 30, we are witnessing continuing demonstrations in response to ongoing, pervasive, and lethal institutional racism set off by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among many other Black lives taken by police. A public health response to these demonstrations is also warranted, but this message must be wholly different from the response to white protesters resisting stay-home orders. Infectious disease and public health narratives adjacent to demonstrations against racism must be consciously anti-racist, and infectious disease experts must be clear and consistent in prioritizing an anti-racist message.
The letter states:
White supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19. Black people are twice as likely to be killed by police compared to white people, but the effects of racism are far more pervasive. Black people suffer from dramatic health disparities in life expectancy, maternal and infant mortality, chronic medical conditions, and outcomes from acute illnesses like myocardial infarction and sepsis.
Biological determinants are insufficient to explain these disparities. They result from long-standing systems of oppression and bias which have subjected people of color to discrimination in the healthcare setting, decreased access to medical care and healthy food, unsafe working conditions, mass incarceration, exposure to pollution and noise, and the toxic effects of stress. Black people are also more likely to develop COVID-19.
The letter argues, “COVID-19 among Black patients is yet another lethal manifestation of white supremacy. In addressing demonstrations against white supremacy, our first statement must be one of unwavering support for those who would dismantle, uproot, or reform racist institutions.”
After taking note of various methods to minimize the spread of COVID-19, the letter asserts, “To the extent possible, we support the application of these public health best practices during demonstrations that call attention to the pervasive lethal force of white supremacy. However, as public health advocates, we do not condemn these gatherings as risky for COVID-19 transmission. We support them as vital to the national public health and to the threatened health specifically of Black people in the United States.”
The letter advises, among other suggestions:
Support local and state governments in upholding the right to protest and allow protesters to gather. Do not disband protests under the guise of maintaining public health for COVID-19 restrictions. Advocate that protesters not be arrested or held in confined spaces, including jails or police vans, which are some of the highest-risk areas for COVID-19 transmission. Oppose any use of tear gas, smoke, or other respiratory irritants, which could increase risk for COVID-19 by making the respiratory tract more susceptible to infection, exacerbating existing inflammation, and inducing coughing.
More suggestions: “Reject messaging that face coverings are motivated by concealment and instead celebrate facecoverings as protective of the public’s health in the context of COVID-19. … Support the health of protesters by encouraging the following: Use of face coverings. Distance of at least 6 feet between protesters, where possible. Demonstrating consistently alongside close contacts and moving together as a group, rather than extensively intermingling with multiple groups.”
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